I first started thinking seriously about college when I was entering 10th grade because my high school was only 10th through 12th grade. I knew that to get into a good school I would need a great SAT or ACT score and to keep my grades up. What I didn't know though it is what exactly I wanted to do or which university I wanted to go to. I thought about it mainly in terms of which location would make me the happiest because I heard most schools in the top 10 were similar in difficulty getting in. I love the busyness of New York City and decided to look at Columbia and NYU.
What made Columbia stand out to me was its Core Curriculum. Most universities require a core curriculum which is more generalized. For example a requirement would be to take in English class but you could pick up from a long list of English classes. The difference at Columbia is that everybody takes the same core classes at the same time. In our first year we took a year-long course called Literature Humanities and were all reading the same books at the same time. The course only had 20 people in each section so it was a seminar style, which means it is more interactive than the lecture. The especially cool part was that everyone was reading the book at the same time, so I had interesting discussions about Plato and Aristotle with my friends in addition to my classmates. I heard other people arguing about Toni Morrison in the dining halls and dorm lounges. All of us were intensely questioning these books and their ideas at the same time, which is not a feeling I experienced in my later years at Columbia, when everyone's classes became specialized.
Additionally, I chose Columbia because it seemed like an oasis away from the busyness of New York City. Sitting at 116th and Broadway, there are patches of grass where students read outside when it's sunny. In a city that is grimy and crowded at times, the tranquility when you walk onto campus was something I craved, especially coming from a more rural area. I set my mind on Columbia and started working towards my goal.
I took my ACT the first time in the fall of my junior year. Universities usually publish their range of SAT/ACT scores that their students had. I scored in their published 25% percentile but I wanted to increase my chances of success and decided to take it again. I intensely reviewed my weak sections and finally got my goal score. It is okay to take these tests in multiple times if you increase your score each time. Remember, universities you apply to can see each time you've taken it and your score, so it only looks good if you take the test multiple times if you increase each time. Don't rush your retake and make sure to really focus on those weaknesses.
Once I decided on Columbia I wanted to be an ideal applicant. I saw Columbia was a research heavy institution so the Summer between my junior and senior year of high school I found a lab position in a neuroscience lab. I worked really hard so I could impress my mentor. Luckily, he was impressed and wrote me a recommendation letter for college which I really do think made a difference in my application. Note, this only works if you really try and understand what you're doing. I was not obeying orders every day at the lab, instead I was pitching new ideas for projects and analyzing the data that I collected. I was lucky enough to have a mentor who allowed me to make mistakes and to learn, which ultimately is the goal of a research experience.
I applied Early Decision in the fall of my senior year. I had asked for recommendation letters in early September to give my recommenders plenty of time to submit. I started working on my Common App essay two months before it was due, and wrote at least eight revisions. I'm not saying eight is the magic number, but I would suggest having multiple people read it. A really good essay can make the difference between two similar looking applications.
Not many people from my high school applied to Columbia Early Decision, so everyone knew that I was fairly nervous on the day I was supposed to find out. I went home to open the portal alone. I remember not believing I really got accepted when I saw the word congratulations at the top of the webpage. I worked hard to get where I ended up, and with foresight and planning, you can too.
I hope my blog post gives you a bit more of an idea of how to prepare for college admissions. I'm currently in medical school now so if you'd like to read more about my journey, check out medicallymich.com.